This small volume, The Solution at Hand, is not a book that Robert Wearing ever wrote. Rather, it contains 157
of the best jigs, fixtures and tools that Wearing published in the English magazine,
Woodworker, during the 20th century. The title for this collection was created by the
folks at Lost Art Press, its publisher, to fit its hand-picked contents. But despite those
facts, the book is Wearing all the way, and at his best. Pungent descriptions of valuable
jigs, fixtures and tools are accompanied by Wearing’s own hand-drawn illustrations.
Together, they bring the construction of these shop aids within the grasp of any
Hard bound on quality paper, this 182-page volume is built to last, to be used in the
shop and endure the hard use its contents merit. Charmingly for North American
readers, the book retains both English spellings and the names for tools and processes.
But fear not: a glossary at the book’s opening offers a translation for the few places
where confusion might otherwise arise.
The book is divided into four major sections: holding devices, marking aids, tools, and
cramps, that is, clamps.
First, holding devices. The basic tool is, of course, a sturdy workbench. Wearing offers
a suggested design. But most of this section is devoted to specific devices to be used
on whatever bench you’ve got. One offering is a planing grip system that’s built into the
benchtop as a permanent fixture. Other holding devices include a vise-held planing
stop, shop-made holdfasts, carpeted jaws to fit inside a vise to cushion finished work, a
tapered jaw insert, jaws to hold round stock like dowels in a vertical position, cradle jaws
to hold square or rectangular stock for cutting octagonal profiles with handplanes,
leather-lined jaws to hold saws for filing, and devices to hold long or wide boards for
But wait, there’s more! Wearing describes a block to hold a board for mortising, a
sticking board, a method for holding chair seats, a device to hold small and thin
components for planing, cradles to plane boards into octagons, hexagons, pentagons,
and triangles, a jig to cut miter keys, a pusher to fit ferrules on turned handles, a means to hold box shapes such as drawers, aids for fitting large doors, an innovative fixture for
gluing up very thin boards, a dovetailing vise and angle brackets for use in dovetailing.
Next come marking aids. These include a straightedge, diagonal laths to assure
casework is square, a wooden square, depth gauges for measuring turnings such as
bowls, panel gauges, a mortise gauge, a pencil gauge for curved work, a gauge for
tapers, a pitch stick to set chair leg angles, a holder to mark cylinders, curve marking
devices, tools to use for leveling table and chair legs, dovetail markers, dowel joint
markers, and a veneer strip cutter for chess boards.
The third section addresses shop-made tools. Included here are an oil pad intended as
a parking place for handplanes as well as to oil them, winding sticks, a cabinet scraper
sharpening aid, a scraper plane sharpening holder, scratch stocks, a cutter like a
mortise gauge for making inlay grooves, a circular groove cutter, a sliding bevel, a
spokeshave blade holder for sharpening, a carver’s mallet, a plow plane fence
modification, an improved shooting board, a handle for a shooting plane that functions
like Lie-Nielsen’s hot dog, miter boxes and blocks, a tool for mitered dovetails, a device
to use when handplaning thin strips and very small components, a modified handplane
for use on plastic laminates, a hook installer for use to screw in cup hooks or eyes, a
dowel cutter, dowel plates, a dowel groover, saw filing aid, wood and machine screw
gauges, awls, tools for producing circular frames, a mullet—used to test the fit of
grooves in place of using a whole finished component—a scribing knife, center finder,
aid for drilling holes in corners, drilling vises, a process for recutting saw teeth, a saw
sharpening vise, painting sticks that function like painter’s pyramids, carpet blocks to
protect finished work, using transparent adhesive tape to protect against unwanted glue
adhesion, and finally, a method for hardening and tempering metal work.
The final section addresses clamping devices. These range from hand screws of
various descriptions to board clamps, a small job vise, clamps to use when sculpting
workpieces, lever arm clamps, fixed clamps of varying sizes, carcase clamping
systems, panel clamps for drawer bottoms, a picture frame clamp, miter clamps, a
correction device for cutting miters in boxes and picture frames, a hanging rack for sash
clamps, and jointing clamps for edge jointing boards.
Taken all together, these devices make a quite comprehensive set of tools with wide
utility in any woodshop. Of course, you can purchase many of these devices, but the
DIY woodworker will have a field day (or many!) making them for him or herself, both to
show off their ingenuity and also to save some of that hard-earned legal tender. Hand
tool woodworkers will especially find the wealth of work holding devices of great value.
This is not a book that armchair woodworkers will prize; it’s a practical set of tools and a
shop aid that’s intended to be used at the workbench.
The ideas in this book make it a valuable resource for all woodworkers. I’m very
pleased to have a copy as a part of my own woodworking library.
Find out more and purchase The Solution at Hand
at Highland Woodworking
J. Norman Reid is a woodworker, writer, and woodworking instructor living in the Blue Ridge Mountains with his wife, a woodshop full of power and hand tools and four cats who think they are cabinetmaker's assistants. He is the author of
Choosing and Using Handplanes. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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